Welcome to all creatures- two legged and otherwise. This is one of my favorite feasts of the year- the feast of the gentle, humble, holy and alarmingly unbalanced Francis of Assisi. Francis had an early revelation about his relationship with nature. He alone among theologians took seriously Jesus’ commission to his disciple in the Gospel of Mark: “”Go into the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
And so, famously, Frances preached, to begin with, to the birds. According to one of his brothers in community Thomas of Celano, he once noticed a large flock near the beautiful Spoleto Valley. As he approached them they did not fly away, but seemed to listen intently. He told them always to praise God, who had given them beautiful feathers, sweet voices and the pure holy air to fly in. They stayed put for the whole sermon. Later, Francis wondered aloud to his companions why he had never preached to birds before. And from that day on, Francis made it his habit to solicitously invoke all birds, all animals and reptiles to praise and love their Creator.
In our day, Francis is still famous for his love of animals. But this was only one of the remarkable ministries of Francis of Asissi. A much less popular pass time of his was to take care of, and even eat with the most lowly and rejected of creation- the lepers who lived in a colony not far away. Some think that the stigmata that appreared on Francis’ hands and feet were the marks of leprosy- he took care to personally wash the wounds of the afflicted. He was really saintly in this regard. He really did care for al of creation.
Our Beautiful letter to the Hebrews points out that God entrusted creation, not to the angels, but to mere mortals. In astonishment the author asks of God:
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under their feet.”
Yes, we do seem to have been given an opportunity for stewardship of this glorious creation. And I am proud of my flock here, be cause we rank pretty high in care of creation. We are really goodat recycling in fact we have a recycling tsarina in Paula White, we have a large organic garden, reducing the carbon footprint for the food we serve, and we follow the commandment “Thou shalt not write the great American novel for your bulletin evey Sunday, but rather thou shalt reuse the perfectly good bulletins you have and maketh only email announcements rather than printed ones.
But as a rule, unfortunately humanity has not taken good care of creation. Instead of nurturing it, caring for it, co-creating with it, we have managed to do exactly what Jesus begs us not to. We have divorced ourselves from nature. We have taken too literally the words in the letter to the Hebrews, believing that we are crowned with honor in order to subject everything under our feet. This has not gone well, this great divorce.
In 1969, at the Montreal Bed-in for peace, with John Lennon, Yoko Ono was being savagely pummeled with sexist and racist insults by the cartoonist Al Capp.It was captured on film, and it is hair-raising. She listened patiently and then said, “We are all married to each other.” In response to his professed hatred of her. Of course he objected vociferously, but I thought, yes. She is right. We are all on this planet, married to each other and to the earth and all creation. But because of our hardness of heart, we have divorced ourselves from creation, although we are one flesh.
Yoko Ono, ahead of her time in all things, anticipated the sentiments of first Earth Day in 1970 by more than a year. On that Earth Day, “ecology” became a hot topic- the concept that, basically, we are all married to one another. The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 sparked huge changes. I remember- EVERYONE participated- Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. People were wearimg IUD earrings and talking of solar power and electric cars. It may have seemed like a massive pre-woodstock festival, but his first Earth Day led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
Earth Day has continued in various forms, drawing support and encouraging world-wide cooperation in the care of creation.
Most astonishing in our own time, Pope Francis has jumped into the fray, preaching to congress and all creation. He seems to agree that subjecting creation under our feet is a misreading of God’s word. Pope Francis- the other Francis says:
“Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.” If Pope Francis is for us, who can be against us? Now if he would only endorse birth control he would solve the problem entirely for future generations! Don’t hold your breath.
We have seen the incredible power of acts by ordinary and not so ordinary people, who, like Francis of Assisi, see God in nature, see themselves in nature, see all nature as part of the human family. We should have great hope because of what those ordinary and extraordinary people have done.
We here at Good Shepherd church are also a family, and of course we are all extraordinary. We have met the need again and again to nurture, care for and love each other and all creation.
We are on our own here, just like that small fragile green planet, and we have to support the church ourselves- provide energy and resources and give of ourselves. We have been going strong for 137 years, and it seems that the Holy Spirit wants us to continue. Please prayerfully consider what you can do to nurture this little corner of creation, which does so much for God’s people.